‘Christian Ethics Stuff’ and the Death of Mother-Daughter Movie Icons

Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher pose in the press room at the 21st annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on January 25, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.

By Lael Arrington Published on December 29, 2016

When we walked in the door from watching the new Rogue One Star Wars movie last night, we heard the sad news: Distraught over her daughter Carrie Fisher’s death the day before, screen legend Debbie Reynolds had just died of a stroke.

(Slight spoiler alert) We had just watched a digitally young Carrie Fisher/Princess Leia in the final scene of Rogue One. One of the rebels handed her electronic intelligence delivered at the cost of many lives. When he asked what she’s been given, Leia lit up a smile and answered, “Hope.” But in a tragic irony, sixty-year old Fisher died Tuesday of cardiac arrest in the wake of years of the kind of drug abuse that damages your heart. Now, her elderly mama appears to have died from a broken heart.

Through three divorces from men who’c betrayed her and her difficulties with Carrie, Debbie said she made it through by giving her troubles to Jesus and seeking His counsel.

“No parent should outlive their child,” my grandmother told me when her son, my 50-ish uncle died. I watched her suffer over his loss for years. Our hearts go out to a family which must endure this terrible, double loss.

Mother and Daughter and Trust in God

In an interview with Oprah in 2011, Carrie and Debbie discussed their relationship. During her young adulthood, Carrie didn’t speak to her mother for ten years. For her part, Debbie thought there were times when she would lose Carrie to her drug addictions. And there had been many, as Carrie would openly — even entertainingly — discuss.

In 1990, she told Larry King, “One of the side effects of Percodan (a narcotic painkiller) is euphoria, and I thought that was a side effect that I could easily live with. Doesn’t matter that the rest of them that follow that are palpitations, heart attack and death. I couldn’t get over euphoria.”

After her daughter was diagnosed as manic-depressive (bi-polar), Debbie took on a much more protective role. “I wondered,” she said, “who will take care of her after I’m gone.” She was very proud of how Carrie kept fighting for her health and sanity. Their hard-won older adult relationship seemed affectionate and genuine.

Through three divorces from men who’d betrayed her and her difficulties with Carrie, Debbie told Oprah’s audience that she made it through by giving her troubles to Jesus and seeking His counsel. Guideposts magazine reported that she relied on her faith to forgive Elizabeth Taylor for her affair with Reynold’s first husband, Eddie Fisher.

Clearly her mother’s faith has impacted Carrie. In a recent November 28th Rolling Stone interview she was asked, “What are the important rules you live by?”

Carrie responded, “Be kind. Don’t hurt other people. It’s all the sort of Christian ethics stuff I thought was bulls*** when I was a kid. No, it turns out it’s not bulls***. Tell the truth, be kind, all that corny stuff.”

Rolling Stone: “What’s the best advice you ever got?”

Fisher: “You don’t have to always be comfortable. You don’t have to like everything you do. That was shocking to me. I thought I had to like everything I did. When I heard that, it was such a relief.”

Rolling Stone: “Where did you learn that?”

Fisher: “A.A. They would say things like, ‘You don’t have to like it. You just have to go.’ I thought that was amazing. ‘Really? I can not like this? Well, great. I don’t like it.’ That took my back to … I hate the word ‘Christian,’ but again, that sort of ethic.”

On Oprah Carrie affirmed her deep love, respect and appreciation for her mom. Debbie was famous not just as an actor and singer, but for her wholesome good-girl image. I can remember as a young girl being drawn to those qualities as she wistfully sang, “Wish I knew, if he knew what I’m thinking of … Tammy, Tammy Tammy’s in love.”

She tried to pass on her wisdom to Carrie, but Carrie found it hard to receive. When Rolling Stone asked her, “What advice do you wish someone had given you at age 19?” Carrie responded, “It was advice I couldn’t take: Don’t get loaded your whole f***ing life. And I did get loaded my whole f***ing life. You have to learn, and unfortunately it takes a lot of lessons for some of us to get it right.”

Overcoming Unhealthy Rebellion

Like so many cultural icons and artists, Carrie has been celebrated as a rebel — a rebel princess. In Rogue One the rebel forces are fighting terrible odds to survive. When they start losing heart, another beautiful young rebel princess-type warrior rallies them, much as Princess Leia does, saying, “Rebellions are built on hope.”

Both of these women have suffered much and persevered. We have no idea of how Debbie’s and Carrie’s stories ultimately end. God can redeem our worst rebellions.

Maybe that is why we all struggle to listen to our mothers. Why we wander into addictions, sex, drugs and rock and roll. We do it in hope. Hope that going our own way, reaching for the “euphoria” will bring us the happiness we think we’re missing by being Snow White or Tammy or Debbie Reynolds.

Being a rebel in today’s culture is usually seen as a good thing, which it very well can be. Rebellions from evil are noble, even if, as for so many Rogue One fighters, the battle ends badly. That noble sacrifice keeps hope alive and eventually the Empire is defeated. The movie was a thumbs-up addition to the Star Wars legend.

On the other hand, rebellions from what is good can be more costly than we ever imagine.

Both of these women suffered much and persevered. We have no idea of how Debbie’s and Carrie’s stories ultimately end. God can redeem our worst rebellions. What we can ask ourselves is: Is what we’re hoping in something that will deliver “euphoria” or something seriously worthy of our hope? Something that can bear the load of our life? How many lessons and at what cost will we learn “to get it right?”

In this election year many have turned to politics in search of hope. And many are already deeply disappointed. As we listened to Handel’s Messiah this Christmas I was struck by the beautiful image of the lyrics from Isaiah, “And the government will be upon his shoulders.” What a relief to hope in the earthly rule of a wise and good king who can bear the load of each individual life and all our lives together. A true hope. 

Not only will He lead well, He will love well. His name shall be called, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.”


Originally published on LaelArrington.com. Reprinted with permission.

Print Friendly
Comments ()
The Stream encourages comments, whether in agreement with the article or not. However, comments that violate our commenting rules or terms of use will be removed. Any commenter who repeatedly violates these rules and terms of use will be blocked from commenting. Comments on The Stream are hosted by Disqus, with logins available through Disqus, Facebook, Twitter or G+ accounts. You must log in to comment. Please flag any comments you see breaking the rules. More detail is available here.
  • Gary

    I read that Carrie was an agnostic. I wouldn’t get my hopes up that either of them are in Heaven.

  • Queen Laura’s Ghost

    Everyone mentions how Carrie was formerly addicted to drugs, but no one thinks to ruminate upon how, in the months before her death, she was forced to quickly lose a large percent of her body weight for her role as an older Leia. For a 60 year old woman, this is not an easy or natural change.

  • Royce E. Van Blaricome

    Good article. Thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Love the last lines about this election year and where people were putting their hope. As a Christian that was the most disappointing and saddening thing I saw. Tons of people professing to be a Christian and looking at the GOP or Trump or the House or Senate or some other political person or position as their hope. When I tried to show them that it fell on deaf ears and all I could do was SMH and say a prayer for them.

    So I appreciate this article and what it tried to convey. I also hope folks don’t miss the other truly significant point. Perhaps the saddest thing said about Debbie & Carrie is “We have no idea of how Debbie’s and Carrie’s stories ultimately end. ”

    Think about that and let it set in a good, long time. After you’re dead and gone, is that what you want folks saying about you? I would hope I’ve lived my life in such a way after being Born Again that folks would look back on my life and not see the BC days but rather see so much fruit that there was NO question as to where I was and that those who’ve surrendered as a slave to Christ as I have WILL see me again.

    That is the hope and encouragement I hope to give to those who are in Christ Jesus.

No Room for Christ at the Inn
The Stream
More from The Stream
Connect with Us